behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

COLOSSUS vs OMEGA RED — The Episode that Never Was

To quote Joe E. Brown from the movie Some Like it Hot: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”  We had a tight schedule and a tighter budget on X-MEN:TAS.  Some big animated series (at Disney, Warners, etc.) have the time and money to try all sorts of stories, develop them to script, see which ones everybody likes, then toss the ones they don’t.  We didn’t have that luxury.  The one-line ideas that were chosen were going to get made — we on the writing staff just had to make sure the 40-page scripts all came out well.  Well, 76 out of 77 did.  The one exception was a hard-edged episode set in rural Russia called “Bring Me Charles Xavier.”  Many note-givers raised concerns early, at the premise and outline stages, like they are supposed to.  But I liked the story and bull-headedly pushed it and the writer through to a couple of versions of the script — only to be told that no, many of my colleagues still didn’t like the story.   So, after many weeks of trying, it was gone.  I appologized to the writer, got him paid, and faced one of the heaviest repsonsibilities that the showrunner has in our corner of the business.  Production needed a 40-page script to keep their schedule, so I wrote a completely new one over the weekend.  Below are the would-be adversaries and the cast page from the abandoned script.  Too bad : looks like it could have been fun.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS: THUNDERBIRD, The X-Man We Tried to Use but Couldn’t

When Mark Edens wrote the pilot script for me for X-MEN:TAS, there was an X-Man in it that never ended up apprearing on screen as an X-Man.  It was the Native American John Proudstar, known as Thunderbird.  When the X-Men books were re-started in 1975 (after their suspension in 1970), Len Wein and Dave Cockrum were given the job of coming up with a new team that was far more diverse and international.  Fans got a German (Nightcrawler), a Russian (Colossus), a Canadian (Wolverine) and a Native American.  In writing stories, they soon learned that they had a problem.  To quote Cockrum: “We created Thunderbird as an obnoxious loudmouth, and we already had an obnoxious loudmouth in Wolverine.  So one of us decided to kill him off.”  Which is why we X-Men newbies (Mark, me, Micahel Edens) decided to use Thunderbird as the character we were going to kill off in our opening story (we were trying to stay true to the spirit of the books).  Atop our todo list during the first week was: “Kill off Thunderbird.”  Well, somebody somewhere noticed that the only X-Man that we were planning to kill was Native American.  Sorry: we don’t care if they killed him in the comics, we can’t do it on Saturday morning TV.  Fine.  So I dug around and found another character who had died, sacrificing himself for the X-Men: Changeling.  Only we couldn’t use the name (long story).  So the lone sacrificial X-Man became “Morph.”  The rest is history.  By the way, to show you how much Thunderbird was in everyone’s mind early on, take a look at an image from the opening credits, on the “opponents” side.  There is John Proudstar, next to Juggernaut, angry as ever.

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title-opponents

 

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X-MEN TOGETHER, NOT APART

Last night on a podcast, some nice folks from upstate New York asked us all sorts of questions about X-MEN:TAS.  I had answers to most of them, but one eluded me.  “Is there an X-Man you hope to see in a solo film one day?”  After serious thought, I responded: “No.  I always think of them together.”  That’s weird, but it’s true.  I can enjoy The Avengers in individual movies — Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, etc. — because their stories started with them as individuals.  Joss Whedon’s masterful job in the first movie at getting them to work together for a few hours was just that — an effort.  They aren’t a natural team (which is half of the fun watching them try to be).  They aren’t a family.  Does Thor care how Tony Stark’s day is going?  The X-Men came into being as a group.  They live and work together.  In looking back at the team we chose, I believe that losing just a couple of them could have really hurt the stories.  I know and enjoy them in relation to each other.  I believe that’s why they have lasted, off and on, for over 50 years.  So even though I look forward to the “Logan” movie (great trailer), half of the pleasure in that movie will be seeing him interact with Charles Xavier.  They have 35 years of books and 76 episodes-plus of TV history together.  They “grew up” toegether.  That’s why I didn’t have an answer for Tom & Kimber’s podcast.  I just don’t think of the X-Men apart — which to me means they have achieved something special.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

WE CHEATED: Making Connections in the Savage Land

The first season of X-MEN:TAS we got away with something rarely seen in American animated television: we showed a continuing story set over 13 episodes.  For us to be allowed to do this was a tough fight since every business interest invovled worried that delays unique to animation could make us miss our planned air dates.  In the end they were right, and our connected storytelling cost them a lot of money.  They made much more when the series became a hit, of course, but the damage had been done: no more connected stories.  Occasional multi-parters might be okay (we pushed that hard), but episodes must STAND ALONE.  Well, we cheated.  We gave the network a two-part episode, then nine “stand alone” episodes, then a two-parter.  The trick was that the final two-parter resolved a problem (Xavier and Magneto kidnaped together) that we had set up in the opening story, and the nine episodes in-between all “touched base” with the kidnaped characters.  So to our audience, it felt like a continuing story.  This continuing background “B story” seemed to knit it all together.  I’m not sure what would have happened if the middle episodes had been shown out-of-order.  Our theory was that they would still make sense that way.  Perhaps we one day will make an experiment — starting with eps. 14/15 (“Till Death Do Us Part”), then mixing up episodes 16-24 at random, then concluding with the planned season finale of 25/26 (“Reunion”).  Or maybe some fans could make a weekend of it and let us know the results.  In any case, apologies to our network for bending the rules.  But we like the results.

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X-Men Show

OUR WISEST, KINDEST SOUL: The Beauty of the Beast

Hank McCoy is the most thoughtful superhero character I know, anywhere.  He didn’t start out that way.  In the first dozen books in 1963, he’s just one of the the guys, a big lug who wisecracks and leers right along with the other regular-guy, street kids taken in by Dr. Charles Xavier.  Then, to someone’s credit (Stan’s?) Hank McCoy started sounding distinctly more well-read.  Not wise or thoughtful yet, but he started to conspicuously use “big words,” a fancier vocabulary that set him apart.  The idea evidently was to contrast the fact that he was “the Beast,” erudite despite his appearance.  When years later he gained acutal fur the contrast increased, and as he and the other X-Men became accomplished adults rather than mouthy teens his wisdom and eloquence gradually increased.  We at X-MEN:TAS ran with this idea, supercharged it.  Our constant method was to differentiate our characters as much as we could, so we wrote Hank to be as thoughtful and considerate as we could make him.  Wolverine cared deeply about people but, in true rebel-hero fashion, he’d be damned if he’d show it.  Our Beast was so confident, so at home in his own blue skin, that he openly displayed his kindness and compassion with no fear of diminishment or ridicule.  He was big, strong — and kind.  He loved to read, as did we on the X-MEN:TAS writing staff.  Below is an image of Beast, at the end of “The Phoenix Saga” when the team has just realized that Jean Grey has decided to sacrifice her life.  Moments later he manages to conjure one of his most heartfelt poetic quotes, from Emily Dickinson: “Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.”  Thank you Hank, and flawless voice-actor George Buza, for giving us that moment.

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behind-the-scenes, the book, X-Men Show

THE NEW TEAM THAT NEVER WAS: The Book Will Tell the Story

When I mentioned yesterday how we had written out four team members from X-MEN:TAS and written in four new ones in what was to have been the series finale, I thought it would be just a fun note to fans.  Then last night Julia told me: “People are guessing on Twitter.  You have to tell!”  Okay, fine.  I was going to just wait and let folks read the retelling of the 10-page, 4-episode discarded premise in our “Making of X-MEN:TAS” book next year.  But she’s right: I brought it up, I need to answer the question right away.  First, who was to go.  Jean and Scott, who we’d tried to marry off and get pregnant as early as episode 14 were now married and leaving to start a family.  Makes sense.  Xavier was leaving, in this case to take on a new set of much younger mutants (the at-the-time new “Generation X”).  This is kind of like Vince Lombardi winning a couple of Super Bowls and deciding to go back to coaching highschool football, but there you are.  Finally Storm decided that she too had other responsibilities.  Bam.  After an 88-minute, time-torturing, mega-villain-filled story, the X-Men are four folks short.  Well, in our original story, we made Psylocke  a major player, and she ended up asking to stay around (fitting in with some of the recent books).  Same with Archangel.  The two larger surprises were Bishop and Shard.  The hard-fighting brother and sister from the future had become stranded in the present time (1996?).  Since they too had proven themselves, the X-Men welcomed them.  So there you have it — four out, four in.  I have no idea how the delicate balance of our core team would have been affected.  Making the new team work as well would have been a huge challenge.  I’d like to think that if asked we could have risen to it.

BISHOP                                                 SHARD

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

Change the Team?!

There’s a little known fact: we were going to change the X-MEN:TAS team.  We had written the script where four members left and four new ones came on.  It seems hard to imagine now.  One of the strengths of the series is that we had found an excellent balance of diverse characters.  How would we write stories without four of our team, mixing in four new-comers?  The trick is that we were not planning to.  Fox Network had decided to end the series at 65 episodes with a big story that concluded with four members leaving and four, who had proved themselves within the story, replacing them.  The big four-part story was “Beyond Good and Evil,” and we had finished the four scripts — story laid out by Mark Edens and Michael Edens — with heartfelt farewells included.  Then word came down that Fox didn’t want to end the series after all.  They wanted another season (season five).  Oops.  Now I had to go back into “B. G. & E.” and take out all of the story bits that lead to four characters leaving and four new ones stepping in.  Not pleasant.  What was a really well-constructed 88-minute story now needed to be patched together to be something different.  Fast.  Oh, well.  Below are our original ten X-Men (including Morph), plus some guest stars.  See if you can guess which four of our ten was set to leave and who would have replaced them.  Two of the replacements are among those shown below.

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WHO LEFT AND WHO REPLACED THEM?

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Proteus: Villains vs. Threats

Stan Lee liked his villains straight and simple: evil characters to be defeated by heroes.  Mark Edens and I once got in trouble during a “Thor” development meeting (the series didn’t get produced — it would have been great fun) when we tried to show some sympathy for Loki, neglected-son-of-Odin.  In the orignal myths, a measure of such sympathy can be found.  Stan, an advisor on the project, hated this: to him, a character was either a villain to be hated or a hero to be loved.  Loki was a villain, end of discussion.  Given Stan’s amazing track record, it was hard to argue that day that he was wrong.  For X-MEN:TAS, however, we took a different approach.  We had some out-and-out villains, but they tended to be evil, corrupt humans.  When we used a mutant to pose a threat, either to people or to the X-Men, we tended to find them far more interesting if the threatening mutant had a sympathetic side.  Magento is the prime example — supremely threatening, but still sympathetic (in our version, anyway).  We took the idea of a sympathetic threat to its limits with the two-part episode, “Proteus.”  The title creature is a huge threat to himself and humanity.  He is such a violent force of nature that he makes Wolverine break down and cry from fear.  But at the same time, he is a troubled teenage boy, the son of Professor Xavier’s first love, scientist Moira MacTaggart.  The true villain of the story is Proteus’s abusive politician father, but the threat driving the action is his troubled son.  So we had the best of both worlds: we had a spectacular creature for the X-Men to fight, but, within the same character, a loved one to save.  Luckily Stan wasn’t much invovled with X-MEN:TAS after the first season, so we didn’t have to fight him over it.  (By the way, the first part of “Proteus” was written by the late Bruce Reid Schaefer, a gentle soul and fellow Tennesseean who left us far too young.)

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X-Men Show

XAVIER’S FAMILY OF ORPHANS

Interestingly, we knew very little about the parents of the X-Men we chose for X-MEN:TAS.  Jubilee was introduced as a foster child.  Scott was brought up in an orphanage (see below, from “No Mutant is an Island”).  Logan?  Beast?  Jean?  No information.  The woman who “acted” as Rogue’s mother may have been the mutant Mystique.  Other heroes lost their parents early.  Superman’s parents had to give him up as an infant to save him.  Batman’s parents that were taken from him by a criminal’s gun.  Do parents simply get in the way of heroic storytelling?  Luke Skywalker not only had lost his parents, but his aunt and uncle, his stand-in parents, were killed off to start the saga.  Do heroes need to be let loose, made alone in the world before they can become heroic?  I think X-Men has proved to be successful because Professor Xavier (whose own childhood was problematic) offered a unique twist with his “school.”  While Superman and Batman remain basically alone, Xavier has created a loving family to accept lonely would-be heroes.  The way we saw the X-Men, they could act as traditional loners — many left the X-Men for  a short time, like Scott, below, when he believed that Jean had died — or they could act for each other, as a committed unbroken family.  It was like we were able to allow them to become the heroes that they were destined to be, but then gave them supportive loved ones to come home to when they needed to.

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scott-goes-home

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Lost Weekend

Well, for once I spent a weekend without making an X-MEN:TAS post.  Sorry.  I had a defendable excuse.  The photo below shows me and eleven other riders of obscure Italian motorcycles standing at sunrise (6:30am) Saturday at Dante’s Peak, one of the definite to-do things in Death Valley.  I’ve been riding bikes for nearly as long as I’ve been reading comic books, and two of the old guys in the picture have been my riding buddies since my late teens in Tennessee.  800 miles later, I’m home and recovering, but even though I now get web-service again (none in the desert), it may be tomorrow before I can manage a proper X-MEN:TAS post.  Until then, I’m just thankful for old friends and the open road.  (If you are curious, I’m fifth from the right.)

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X-MEN:TAS WRITER E-PUBLISHES DARK COMIC NOVEL

Without Mark Edens, there would be no X-MEN:TAS as we all know and love it.  We would have stumbled through somehow, but Mark’s presence was critical to the storytelling.  Mark and I laid out the first 26 episode ideas.  He wrote the two-part opening pilot script, “Night of the Sentinels.”  Mark and I built the “Phoenix Saga” five-episode TV story, adapting it from the Claremont/Byrne books.  The network, knowing his value, asked him to come up with a big, Apocalypse-centered four-part finale (“Beyond Good and Evil”) which, before we were required to change it, was to be the wrap-up of the series.  Mark and his brother Michael had a hand in over half of the series’ scripts.  So it is exciting for me to announce that Mark has just published a darkly-comic novel, “Death Be Not Pwned.” It is available electronically on Amazon for $3.99.  Even though the creative writers and artists who crafted X-MEN:TAS can no longer display their talents on that show, there are other ways to enjoy their work.  Mark’s new book is one of them.